Understanding Clergy Resilience: A Mixed Methods Research Study
There is limited literature on the current nature of clergy resilience, the specific variables that enable clergy to positively adapt to adversity, and the aspects of pre-service training and professional development that best foster clergy resilience. Clergy face adversity similar to other human service providers as well as other adversity that is unique to the profession. Burnout is a significant concern for the clergy profession, those they serve, and their families. It decreases ministry effectiveness, lowers the sense of personal accomplishment in their role, and negatively impacts the quality of family life and family relationships. Since clergy are at risk of experiencing the negative impacts of role-related stress and adversity, especially burnout, knowledge of the nature and state of clergy resilience may provide valuable intelligence to mitigate these impacts. The positive psychology perspective of resilience research seeks to understand positive adaptation to adversity rather than its negative outcomes. This study approached resilience from a holistic, systemic perspective using the strength-focused philosophy of positive psychology. This study used an operational definition of resilience as a developmental process that arises from a combination of individual, relational, and contextual variables, including cognitive appraisal, and results in positive adaptation to adversity and stress (Fletcher & Sarka, 2011; Gu & Day, 2007; Masten, 2001; Windle, 2011). The purpose of this study was to explore Christian clergy perceptions of variables that impact the development of professional resilience in their roles. This study involved a holistic investigation of variables that clergy perceive as impacting their professional resilience, including adversity, individual, relational, contextual, and organizational variables. This study also considered how pre-service training and professional development could support clergy resilience. This study used a mix-methods convergent exploratory design, began with an online survey that collected data from 519 clerics across Canada. The survey consisted of closed-ended scale questions analyzed through SPSS, and open-ended questions, which were analyzed through thematic coding, using NVivo 12. Simultaneously, as the survey, 13 one-on-one interviews were conducted with clerics using a semi-structured interview guide with questions related to adversity, variables that support clergy resilience, and helpful and desired initiatives. Interview data were analyzed through thematic coding, using NVivo 12. Following the initial analysis of the survey and interview data, findings were presented to interpretation panels to add interpretative data. Interpretational panel data was also analyzed through thematic coding, using NVivo. This study's findings provided valuable insights into the development of clergy resilience for individual clerics, educational institutions, denominations, and congregations. Through the survey scales, the current nature of resilience and well-being appeared to be good. Several areas showed some strength, including high resiliency trait, a good level of grit, and participant satisfaction with their health and wellness. Congregational flourishing, age, distance from personal supports, and mentors all had statistical connection to scale responses. Clergy participants reported adversity variables that are challenging in their role or to their resilience, categorized in the themes of workload, expectations, isolation, and personal challenges. Clergy also reported variables that support their resilience, categorized in the themes of spiritual life, relational supports, personal aspects, and organizational practices. Spiritual dimensions were very prominent for clergy, especially the centrality of calling to ministry, theological meaning-making, and relationship with God. Participants reported helpful aspects of pre-service training and professional development. Aspects of pre-service training included rigorous discernment and screening of calling and the inclusion of required practices, such as spiritual direction or mentorship. Aspects of professional development included a variety of skill development opportunities, lifelong learning, and conferences and networking with peers. Participants also reported desired initiatives which included more wellness opportunities and increased organizational prioritization of clergy wellness. The Clergy Resilience Model was developed from these findings as a tool that may help clergy resilience both on an individual and systemic level by creating awareness of critical factors. This study is unique in its focus on Canadian Christian clergy, and while some of the findings may have value to clergy in other contexts, the findings should be generalized with caution.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)